Great leaders tend to be humble individuals that do not take credit for things done well by others and often assume the blame for experiments that fail. They tend to be self-effacing individuals who display a fierce resolve to do whatever is needed to get the job done right (and well) while channeling their ego needs from themselves to building their department (organization or company). Strangely this description seems to go against the way that companies have traditionally chosen their managers – promoting the most competent, highly skilled achievers into positions that should allow others to emulate their competence and accomplishments (unfortunately often without any tools or training that might make this possible).
Ask most people who they feel are the true leaders of industry and you will probably hear names like Jack Welch, Donald Trump (at one time – perhaps not so much by not so many people now), the founders of Google, Amazon or McDonald’s - or some other outspoken champion of change. While these individuals may be change agents, they may not be effective in the “long term” as they tend to initiate change or create new markets WITHOUT having the patience (or interest) in “seeing things through” to their logical conclusion. They may not be as able to foster employee “buy in to change” as would a humble leader willing to lead others and pass on accountability (as well as responsibility) to others. An effective sports leader once said that it “was not his responsibility to BE stressed but rather his duty to CREATE stress in others that would help them to grow.” Perhaps it could be better put that respected leaders do not inflict pain but rather they bear the pain of others so that organizational gain can rise from the growth achieved by overcoming individual pain. Perhaps greatness could be better measured by the magnitude and efficiency of change – the number of people involved as active participants in making the change happen and the impact of change on an organization’s bottom line – rather than simply from doing things differently or changing the “status quo” to make a mark on the world.
Humility is disciplined strength. Humble leaders are quick to give credit and slow to accept praise. While a leader must be competitive in order to grow an organization, the manager who takes all the credit will find him/herself without a team to enact change. If two coaches were to take all the credit for their team’s success (and blame their losses on the team’s an inability to listen or learn), the “thrill of victory” and the “agony of defeat” would be reduced to words and claims spoken without action – to a debate (that would surely become a debacle) rather than an event worth watching.
Whenever we seek the cooperation of other people, whether from a position of authority or not, we should speak honestly and directly. Communications should be plain, pointed and specific. Facts should be stated, with any assumptions taken in arriving at the facts clearly explained. After establishing one’s frame of reference, the conclusions derived from the facts should be detailed and discussion and/or dissension allowed in order to gain the support of others required to initiate action. The best communications are spoken (in simple and direct language that everyone understands) rather than written (within text messages) or relayed through intermediaries. Respect is not purchased by cashing in an astounding vocabulary – it is earned by simply stating one’s position so that it can be clearly understood (discussed, enhanced and explained fully) prior to its being acted upon. Leaders must recognize and understand that the right to be heard (and the expectation to be listened to) is never automatically given to anyone – and when assumed it does not (in and of itself) give us the right to be taken seriously.
Being positive is always more effective in the long run than being negative. Being direct and honest, however, does not mean one is entitled to be demanding or degrading. Had you worked on a project for several months only to have it “put on hold,” would you rather be told that you wasted your time and efforts or that they helped to keep the organization from making a serious mistake? Being positive with others, even when putting something on hold or dismissing it, helps to maintain an individual’s dignity and establish their worth. A leader’s integrity is not something that can be given to or “bestowed” upon another – it must be earned by the words spoken, the actions taken and the attitudes expressed every moment of every day.
People respect individuals having integrity. Saying what you mean then doing what you say are two of the greatest attributes that a leader could possess. Nobody is perfect – we are all human, and humans make mistakes. The way we deal with those mistakes, however, will either insure our ascension within an organization or guarantee our fall. While leaders must provide a clear sense of direction for their organization, they must also be honest in accepting not only the credit for success but also the blame for failure. An individual able to do so will have gained immense credibility within his or her organization – credibility that will translate exponentially into positive results.
While charismatic or forceful leaders may produce “quick fix” solutions with lower risks (cutting costs and making splashy, quick change usually saves money in the short term), organizations are probably better off to seek stability, long-term growth, and sustained success. In today’s environment of corporate (leadership) distrust, perhaps more of us should learn how to balance ego with humility, put corporate and employee growth before our own, then reap the rewards of organizational success.
Humility in management should be one goal we all strive to achieve. Once achieved, there would be no greater way to recognize its assimilation than to honestly and selflessly thank those around us for making it happen!